The NES Classic is sold out, but these emulators do the same thing for free

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RetroArch — NES, SNES, N64, NDS, Sega

In the past, emulation was, more often than not, something of a juggling act. To play games that appeared on different consoles, you had to install and configure multiple programs — one for each console you wished to emulate. That could be a headache. These days, things have become streamlined and easier overall, thanks to a program known as RetroArch.

RetroArch is a program that acts as a hub for all your emulation needs. With it, you can download and install various emulation “cores” to the system, organize your ROMs and game files, and configure your experience through a single front end that makes emulation a breeze… once it’s set up. RetroArch’s open-ended flexibility gives the user a tons of control with which to customize and fine-tune their emulation experience, and for the most part, it’s easy to use.

From the download directory on the RetroArch, select your operating system and download the appropriate compressed files. Extract it into an empty folder, and launch the program by clicking the RetroArch executable or application file. If you don’t have a controller plugged in, use the arrow keys navigate about the menu, with the “X” key taking the role of the “A” button and the “Z” key taking the role of the “B” button by default.

Once inside, you’ll need to install some cores. You can actually install them from directly within RetroArch via the Online Updater. Once there, select Core Updater and scroll through the list of available systems.

The breadth of options available for RetroArch can make it overwhelming to use, however, and some emulators require extra steps for installation. Because there are often multiple cores available for each system supported by RetroArch, we’ve selected our top picks to save you some guesswork and allow you to get straight to your nostalgic waxing. If you’re planning on using any of the systems below, this is by far the easiest way to emulate.

Console RetroArch Core
Nintendo Entertainment System Nestopia UE
Super Nintendo Entertainment System snes-mercury
Nintendo 64 Mupen64Plus
Nintendo DS DeSmuME
Sega Genesis X Plus

You’ll still need the ROM files for the games you want to play, but because of their varying legal status, we won’t be sharing any links here. Suffice to say, they aren’t hard to find, but remember you’re likely only allowed to use ROMs for games you already own, depending on where you live. Save your ROMs in a folder, separated into subfolders by console. In RetroArch, navigate to Settings, select Directory, and choose File Browser Dir. Select the folder with your ROMs in it, and you should be ready to load them up.

A standalone emulator is likely the right choice if you’re looking to emulate just a single system, though, or if you’re put off by RetroArch for whatever reason. Luckily, we’ve included standalone picks for consoles and operating systems that are not currently supported by RetroArch. Check out each selection below for further details.

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